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When Anton thought he’d gotten his hands on something too good to be true, he ended up half right. There were many things in the wide world of cultivation he didn’t understand, and that included miraculous objects that were extremely beneficial to cultivator’s growth. But as this particular object had come from Everheart, he had his doubts. He wasn’t exactly wrong, either. If he’d gotten a proper explanation from Everheart, he would believe its accuracy- but what he got instead was a collapsing tomb. He also expected the Order’s appraisal to be accurate- and it was.
Especially the part about ‘optimal for Essence Collection’. Though he might have preferred it to be said ‘difficult to use while in Spirit Building’. The ability to absorb insights condensed into metaphysical strands was a wonderful thing- and difficult. After all, they were just brief moments. Seconds, here and there. Absorbing the first strand hadn’t been terribly taxing for Anton, but he found he could only handle a handful per day before his mind was overwhelmed by thoughts not his own.
More importantly, while general insights into cultivation were beneficial a large majority were specific to cultivation techniques or specific skills he didn’t possess and never planned to train. Thus, they were of limited to no use for him. In addition to that, it didn’t just absorb insights automatically. He had to activate it, and while it was capable of drawing in surrounding natural energy to power itself, that energy had to be channeled through him. At least, he didn’t see another way to do it. Thus, it was extremely tiring.
Yet Anton had no serious complaints. Cultivation was all about overcoming difficulty and the benefits that could provide. This was no different. He began to gather groups of cultivators from the Order, consulting with them on their cultivation and having them practice in his presence while he managed the Vessel of Insights. Calling it just a pot seemed… inappropriate.
Anton was able to separate out the strands that related to the Ninety-Nine Stars, and absorbing them was easier because of his familiarity with the techniques- though that could have been because the insights were from lower tier cultivators in general. He didn’t directly learn much from them, but he found he was able to converse about certain difficulties in a more useful fashion. Sometimes someone might say they were having trouble with the fifth star and tempering their organs when what they actually meant was their control over energy wasn’t refined enough to progress.
He invited his companions to participate as well. They had deeper knowledge of what he was doing, but the insights were devoid of thoughts unrelated to cultivation. At most, he might learn someone was distracted by personal matters but not what kind. He wasn’t sure if this was a limitation of the process or intentional, but he appreciated it. He would rather not directly deal with the emotional baggage of others. He had his own, and he was still sorting through it. Ultimately he intended for some well placed arrows to lighten that burden, but of course not everything was that simple.
Attempting to deal with matters involving Ofrurg would certainly be more expedient if Kohar was in that very same country. However, the form of expediency that would result would probably be detrimental to her, as she would likely end up dead. Yet any attempts to form legal proceedings from Graotan were extremely difficult. If the Order wasn’t sending escorts along with her missives Kohar was quite certain they would end up ‘missing’ somehow. Matters were further complicated by recent events.
Though on the grand scale of cultivators Anton cutting off the hand of a disciple of the Heavenly Lion Sect and Elder Kseniya shooting the knees of two of their elders could be considered a minor scuffle, it opened up room for accusations of personal biases. Just because Kohar wasn’t part of the sect didn’t mean that her staying in Graotan left her completely unaffected by them or unsympathetic. That was partly because they were in the right and not horrible, but still.
The only benefit to her to come out of that whole expedition to Everheart’s ‘tomb’ was that the Heavenly Lion Sect had been seen interacting in a positive manner with Van Hassel and Slusser. It wasn’t enough to be able to heap anything on their head, but they couldn’t completely distance themselves from the two and the many substantiated claims of banditry against them. Currently Kohar needed to gain the assistance of others in Ofrurg to make much progress. She was still attempting to get in contact with some people Anton had met, so she wasn’t certain if she would see any results. But that was fine. The strange thing was, this was the most progress she’d made towards any sort of real change on Ofrurg in some time.
Cultivation was a slow process, and law did not flow quickly. Laws concerning cultivators were difficult to enforce during the best of times, and the fact that some events had only taken several months by monopolizing some of the courts was actually a great boon. Her cultivation was actually improving, as well, which made her optimistic about eventually returning to Ofrurg in person. Perhaps in a few years, when it would be harder to make her disappear without a big fuss.
Just reading the technique manual obtained from Everheart scared Catarina. She would absolutely not be practicing wide-scale formations that indiscriminately absorbed life force. But that didn’t mean she should ignore it, either. She had to know how it worked to counter anything of the sort in the future, and there were still insights she could glean from it. She just wished there weren’t detailed drawings of shriveled corpses involved. She’d seen death before, but it was unpleasant how dispassionate the drawings were.
She had to admit that Everheart was an unmatched genius in the category of formations. Just being in the tomb had let her know that. She wasn’t a formation master yet, but when she compared the masters from the Order and Everheart, she could see a significant gap. Though with an even larger rift between them and herself, she understood her own position. She had no doubt she was talented and full of potential, but most of it was yet unrealized. Just a few years of cultivation training was still small, though Catarina wondered if she could measure up to Everheart’s standards.
He’d anticipated Essence Collection cultivators with just five years of training. Presumably they would have just placed their foot in that category, but she wondered if that was a reasonable standard in the past. Then again, Everheart wasn’t known for being reasonable. Even with her talent Catarina doubted she could achieve the remaining twelve stars in less than two and a half years. That was about one per two months, which only was reasonable in Body Tempering. Granted, she’d gotten more than a full star in a single month in the tomb, but that was an exception. That wasn’t a pace that could be maintained- even with Anton’s help. He’d been able to help her with some insights with the reward he’d received, but she doubted it would catapult her growth so significantly.
She shook her head. It really wasn’t fair to compare herself to theoretical geniuses who might have not even existed in prior generations. Especially since some of them had probably ravaged the lands and torn up the resources that now had to be carefully maintained in current generations. There were still wild lands to explore, but over the past several hundred years those were shrinking in number. It wasn’t as if places suddenly became unsettled and started having natural treasures, and humanity was constantly expanding into formerly dangerous territories as they became at least somewhat safe.
While the gathered insights and technique development over the last centuries wasn’t meaningless, the way people in the old stories gulped down unique fruits and dined on thousand year old beasts, if they were even half true, indicated an amount of resources she couldn’t compare to. Though with Everheart’s rewards she could maintain a similar lifestyle for a few months, perhaps, it wouldn’t be the same as the extreme training facilities he’d had.
As for powering the facilities by drawing on the future… she believed it was something like that, but had no idea how it would be accomplished. Likely it was something that required Life Transformation level insights and power to even begin thinking about. That was still decades away, even if she continued without major roadblocks. Somehow, she still felt very small even though she was technically in the upper half of the population of the disciples of the Order of Ninety-Nine Stars.
Anton had the location of another location Everheart had set up. He wanted to immediately run off to go check it out and find the promised notes, but he needed to take some time to stabilize his cultivation. Forcing all of that training into a month likely hadn’t harmed him, but he had so many things to do. Training alone, with others, with the Vessel of Insights… and with Elder Kseniya.
She’d come to him and declared they would be training. It wasn’t a question or a command, just a statement of fact that she hadn’t doubted. She’d been right, of course. Personal instruction from her was priceless, and she’d simply volunteered it.
It was still difficult to interpret though. She had the skills, but her capacity to transfer them was somewhat limited. Perhaps that was because of her high insights, but some of it was her personality. In this case, though, Anton could feel her sincere attempts to relay information properly.
“Focus yourself. Gather your energy, your self, and place it into the Spirit Arrow. Then let it fly.” Elder Kseniya demonstrated, her shot arcing through the air over the horizon- where Anton was certain if he went to check he would see she had struck the bullseye on a target placed there.
He found he likely wasn’t ready for Horizon Shot. He could maintain an arrow with the proper speed or for the proper duration, but with the great distance involved it was too much for him to do both. He still improved his ability to become one with his arrows, but he could only be accurate at a few hundred meters- and the furthest distance he could shoot without regard for accuracy was barely more than a kilometer. Much further than he could have achieved before he became a cultivator, but far insufficient for shooting over the horizon.
As for the stated purpose of learning the technique, Elder Kseniya said it quite plainly. “If your opponents can’t even sense you before they die, you are safe and can conserve energy that would have been spent on an extended battle.” In short, if an assassination worked, it was easy. “That ugly hearted man wouldn’t see it coming. I almost shot him for you, but we aren’t ready. Plus, I thought you’d like to do it yourself.”
Anton was surprised how ‘talkative’ Elder Kseniya had become. Perhaps she just took time to warm up to people- though Marcio had known her for longer, technically, and found her still quite distant. Anton did have many years of experience to count on, even if some of it wasn’t useful at the level cultivators operated on. Or maybe it was just that he was able to follow along with her well enough.
“Horizon Shot isn’t much good if you’re shooting random people,” Elder Kseniya remarked. “So you need to be able to sense people that far. It’s easiest to lock onto one person, but if you can manage it in other ways you’ll be unstoppable. I’d recommend studying Eyes of the Dragon and some other techniques. It’s a whole different way of controlling your energy and developing your eyes.” Elder Kseniya nodded, “Actually, it’s best to learn this soon- the second half of System Gathering focuses on the body once more. That’s the best time.”
Anton had to agree, both because of her experience and the logic behind her statements. Of course, that didn’t mean starting to train the techniques with her guidance was simple. The Vessel of Insights wouldn’t do him any good either- Elder Kseniya wasn’t having any new insights, but just spouting old ones that worked for her. Anton pushed his way through the unnecessary bits to interpret her thoughts as best he could, holding onto them in memory and later physical notes for when they would be most useful. Path to One Hundred Stars was starting to become a rather burdensome collection of journals. He would have to pare it down to the important parts, if it ever amounted to anything that he felt worth sharing as a whole. And the name was still under review, of course.